Boundaries: A Focus on Humanitarian Architecture


Boundaries, an international quarterly magazine that focuses on providing information on sustainable and “socially engaged” architecture, has released several issues over the years. In particular, their release of  “A Focus on Humanitarian Architecture” in 2014 is full of insightful information into the field. This issue focuses on the following topic:

“In 2014, for the first time since the end of World War II, the number of refugees exceeds fifty million people in total. In such challenging conditions, in which the needs exceed the capacity of NGO and international organizations to provide help and support, what can architecture do? Maybe a lot, it depends on your vision of what architecture as a profession can deliver.”

With contributions from: BC Architects, Building Trust international Design Team, Spacematters architecture and urbanism, Coporaque Workshop, and many more this issue provides potent case studies and articles. It also includes an interview with Line Ramstad, founder of Gyaw Gyaw active. Take a closer look at this issue or even buy a copy on Boundaries Bookstore here.

Image courtesy of Boundaries

Venezuelan Cities Become an Urban Laboratory for Collaborative Design


For 6 weeks, cities in Venezuela were transformed into urban laboratories. During this time, architects and urban designers tested and implemented “participatory processes and collaborative design” as a method for empowering at risk communities. This project, called Espacios de Paz (EDP) (Spaces of Peace), was the result of the National Government of Venezuela and the Venezuelan firm PICO Estudio joining forces. This unison generated a collaboration amongst professionals, students, local residents and public entities to come together and innovate urban public spaces of conflict through architecture.

“These projects are not designed like (…) giant urban-renewal projects which require massive national capital, bureaucratic processes, and long- term negotiations among investors. EDP focused on what is local, intervening carefully on the ground, knowing and transforming necessities, expectations and dynamics of daily life such as the use of time and space,” states Tere García Alcaraz, an architect and development practitioner.

Several Latin American and Spanish architectural studios developed community projects in 4 cities in Venezuela: Pinto Salinas and Petare in Greater Caracas, Los Mangos in Carabobo, Capitán Chico in Zulia and El Chama Abono in Mérida. The projects included basketball courts on a rooftop, shaded areas for dialogue, orchards, playgrounds and more. Espacios de Paz was such a success that Mexico re-created the concept as Espacios de Paz México. Venezuelan and Latin American collectives are holding a coalition meeting in July 2015 to pool together ideas for future urban interventions. Read the full article (available in both English and Spanish) on Espacios de Paz by Tere García Alcaraz here.

Image courtesy of Colectivo Pico Colectivo Animal

When Good Intentions Aren’t Enough: Linking Intent to Impact

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Over the last few weeks, we’ve introduced the idea of “design for equity” and described why it is an important framework for practitioners involved in community-engaged work. We have talked a lot about what it means to have a more equitable design process, from the words that we use to the power of communities in the process. With this essay, we’d like to add another element to that discussion: an outcomes-based approach to better linking the impact we seek to have with the impact that we actually have.

Design for equity means holding ourselves more accountable to the things that we create. To do that, it’s not enough for the output of our work to have good intentions and hopes for impact. It’s just as critical that we also evaluate the outcomes, or assessed impacts of the project, to see if those hopes were fulfilled. More

TAMassociati’s Humanitarian Architecture


TAMassociati takes humanitarian architecture beyond the lens of sustainability and into the realm of beauty. Partners Massimo Lepore and Simone Sfriso, plus their team of eight other designers and architects, have been building shelters in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Sudan for over a decade. Their work incorporates local materials and styles while equally focusing on beauty just as much as functionality.

“We believe we can create relationships, empathy between the user, the patients, and the building,” Lepore says. “It’s very much about using local technology, craftsmen skills, and native materials. But beyond function, you need beauty. When you welcome someone with beauty, you give a message of hope and respect.”

The firm conducts in depth studies studies before and after they implement their projects. “I spend a lot of time in our hospitals after they’re built,” Pantaleo says. “You’ll see a mother come with her children, feeling comfortable and happy, and you realize architecture is more than walls.” Read more about the work of TAMassociati on Line//Shape//Space here.

Image courtesy of TAMassociati

Vote for Building Trust’s Cool School Entries


In February we announced the call for submissions to the Cool School design competition through Building Trust International. The submissions are in, and Building Trust wants you to take part in choosing the winner by voting for your favorite design. Over 180 entries were submitted for this competition focused on challenging architects, designers and engineers to create a design solution that influences the future of school buildings across cold regions globally. Building Trust specifically asks for voters to:

“Please enjoy the wide range of designs and ideas and support your favourites by ‘sharing’ and ‘liking’ but please refrain from tagging and mentioning the authors of the projects until we declare the winners. Let us take this opportunity to thank you all for taking part. The standard of the entries is fantastic and we look forward to announcing the winning design on 1st May 2015.”

You can vote for your favorite project on Building Trust’s Facebook album here. Make your voice heard before May 1st.

Image courtesy of Building Trust International

What Does it Mean to Have an Age-Inclusive City?


The hustle and bustle of cities can both be energizing and at times… daunting. Just imagine what navigating the intensity of urban space must feel like as a senior citizen. Take for example a simple task, crossing the street. The Department of Health states that the average walking speed needed by pedestrians to cross the road is 1.2 metres a second, while the average speed of the senior citizens is between 0.7 to 0.9 metres per second.

“It’s a form of spatial injustice that has crept up on us: we’ve come to accept that certain areas of the urban environment are appropriate only for certain income groups and ages, as if that’s just how it is. It’s quite dangerous, as if we’re pushing certain social groups back into the home;” says Chris Phillipson, professor of sociology and social gerontology at the University of Manchester.

This and many other issues has prompted 258 cities and communities to signed up for to the World Health Organization’s Age-Friendly Cities project to encourage the built environment to help people “age actively.” For example, in Eindhoven lamp-posts, benches and fences on a street were transformed into an alternative “public gym.” Read Anne Karpf’s full article “Our cities must undergo a revolution for older people,” to learn about more projects that are working towards creating a more age-inclusive city.

Image courtesy of Francisco Calvino/Moment Editorial/Getty Images

Sylvia Harris Design Awards Winner: The Corbin Hill Food Project


Design Ignites Change and AIGA have officially announced Francis Carter and his Corbin Hill Food Project as the winner of the Sylvia Harris Citizen Design Award. This $10,000 award, made in honor of the late social impact design pioneer Sylvia Harris, is given to a project that addresses a pressing social issue. In the case of Carter’s project, he chose to tackle the supply of fresh food to NYC by supporting farmers and community groups in New York state to deliver fresh, local produce to Harlem, Washington Heights and the Bronx.

“I’m honored to receive this amazing opportunity, and grateful that it will enable us at Corbin Hill Food Project to better supply fresh food to the places that need it most. I look forward to continuing the practice of citizen design, thanks to the work of Sylvia Harris and her championing of ‘good design for the common good,’” says Carter.

Carter’s work addresses the ability of design to “disrupt” inefficient networks and build positive feedback loops that benefit communities. Although this project is in essence about food, Carter uses design thinking to solve issues and create solutions that feed into the triple bottom line approach. Read all about the CHFP and Carters work on Design Ignites Change here. The Sylvia Harris Citizen Design Award will soon be accepting entries for their 2015 competition.

Image courtesy of Corbin Hill Food Project

Holcim Awards Your Choice


The Holcim Awards are back, but this time you are the jury. After an initial selection of 25 projects worldwide, the Holcim Foundation wants the public to choose the “Next Generation.” This international triennial competition recognizes innovative sustainable construction projects and awards a total of USD 2 million in prize money in each three-year cycle. The two categories in the competition (main category and next generation) are evaluated against five “target issues:”

By voting for your favorite project, you not only gain insight into the latest up-and-coming sustainable construction projects but you will also be included in a random drawing for prizes valued at over USD 600. Voting ends May 17th and winners are announced May 19th. Take some time to review the entries and cast your vote today on the Holcim Awards website here.

Manila’s Questionable Approach to Greening Informal Settlements


Ever since World War II, Manila has been rapidly urbanizing and is now one of the densest cities in the world. With massive urbanization also come massive displacement. This can definitely be said for Manila. Informal settlements and makeshift homes are on the rise and historically the government’s reaction has been quite controversial.

In 1992, the government began labeling informal settlements as “danger areas” under the Urban Development and Housing Act. In relocating informal dwellers, the NHA was required to observe the rights of “underprivileged and homeless citizens,” even as they cracked down hard on the “nefarious and illegal activities of professional squatters and squatting syndicates.” By distinguishing between ‘informal dwellers’ and ‘squatters,’ the law created the possibility of mass eviction.

The idea of making the term informal settlements and “danger areas” synonymous is a very one dimensional and precarious statement. Manila’s complicated history with this issue is now taking the form of reclamation and resettlement plans, which leads to both greening and displacement. Nancy Kwak’s full article on this topic can be found online on Places Journal here.

Image courtesy of Places Journal

Connecting People and Planet through Design


An exclusive interview with Lynelle Cameron on her path into impact design, the Autodesk Foundation’s first year learnings, and opportunities for more people to become involved in the field.

The intersection of people and the planet threads through Lynelle Cameron’s storied career in conservation, community development, technology, and design. As the Autodesk Foundation’s President and CEO, Cameron was first inspired by the people-planet relationship when reading the UN definition of sustainable development in the 1987 publication, Our Common Future. Building off her undergraduate studies in cultural anthropology and environmental management, she spent the first ten years of her career at the intersection of conservation and economic development.

Working with the Jackson Hole Conservation AllianceWorld Wildlife FundNational Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS) and The Mountain Institute, she had the opportunity to live and work in mountain communities around the world. From Wyoming and Alaska to the Himalayas and volcanoes of Kenya, Cameron worked with some of the poorest people in the world who were surrounded by globally significant natural resources. The question driving the programs she built within each of these places was, “How can we work with the people as effective stewards of these resources in a way that improves their economic situation and quality of life?” More